The title of Ben Hickernell's Backwards refers to the motions of competitive rowing, but also to its heroine's seeming regression from almost-Olympian to high school coach—a movement that, as luck would have it, turns out to be an uplifting process of self-discovery. In the film, Abi Brooks (Sarah Megan Thomas, a former rower who also wrote the script) moves back home for a spell after failing to realize her dreams, slow dances to Cyndi Lauper's “Time After Time” despite being at prom in the capacity of a chaperone, and rekindles an old flame with her high school boyfriend (James Van Der Beek). At no point are the implications of these backward motions explored in depth or even really acknowledged. Instead, Abi channels her passion for rowing through two young girls in whom she sees promise (as well as something of herself) and learns an important lesson in expectation management. Hickernell and Thomas do occasionally touch upon darker territory—once she's done as a rower, Abi is actually done; despite a promising offer, there's no comeback to be found here—but always with too light a touch to get their hands dirty and move their film along with any sense of genuine urgency. Subplots are introduced only to be resolved within minutes, characters jettisoned at a moment's notice. Those who can't do, teach; those who settle apparently end up pretty happy. Michael Nordine
Get the Film Club Newsletter
Stay up to date on the best new movies with our critics' latest reviews, interviews and trailers for the films coming to a theater near you each week.